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Apple store workers in Atlanta push to become the first U.S. location to file for a union election

April 20, 2022, 7:19 PM UTC

Workers at an Apple Inc.store in Atlanta plan to become the first in the U.S. to file for a union election Wednesday, setting up a battle between organized labor and a Silicon Valley titan.

The proposed union would include 107 workers at an Apple store in Cumberland Mall in northwest Atlanta. Seventy percent of workers have signed cards of support and plan to file an election petition with the National Labor Relations Board Wednesday afternoon, said Derrick Bowles, a Cumberland Apple store worker and member of the organizing committee.

A successful campaign could establish a foothold for organized labor in Big Tech as a national worker shortage forces employers to reevaluate pay and working conditions. The effort is backed by the Communications Workers of America under a broader campaign to organize tech employees and would be called Apple Workers Union, according to internal materials reviewed by Bloomberg Law.

“Right now, I think, is the right time because we simply see momentum swinging the way of workers,” Bowles said. “As we sat back and re-evaluated, what we realized is that we love being at Apple—and leaving Apple, that’s not something any of us wants to do. But improving it is something we wanted to do.”

Organizers say wages at the store fall below the living wage for Atlanta. Starting pay is about $20 an hour, below the $31-an-hour living wage a single parent with one child needs to live there, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The union wants to raise base wages to $28 an hour, the minimum it says is needed for a single employee to afford a one-bedroom apartment without being rent burdened. It’s also asking for bigger raises to offset inflation and greater profit sharing to match corporate employees.

Watching Amazon, Starbucks

The filing comes as another Apple store in New York is seeking to organize under Workers United, the union behind the recent wave of victories at Starbucks Corp. stores across the country. Union leaders hope that a single victory in Atlanta will set off a cascade of wins similar to the first Starbucks that unionized in Buffalo, N.Y., last December, Bowles said.

Although the share of private-sector workers belonging to unions remains near historic lows, labor leaders are bullish after the Starbucks wins and the unexpected victory at an Amazon.com Inc. warehouse on Staten Island, N.Y.

Serious discussions about unionizing at the Atlanta store began after several workers, including Bowles, began following the fight over the Amazon union in Bessemer, Ala. Although the Amazon workers were defeated in the first election, it inspired the Apple workers to step forward.

“Somebody has got to be the first to do something,” Bowles said. “Being first doesn’t matter to us—doing it is what matters to us. And if we have to be first we will be first.”

Microsoft Corp., Apple’s main competitor, remains nonunion, as do most major tech companies. But there have recently been flickers of unrest, with workers at Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, launching a worker advocacy group last year, and workers at Activision Blizzard Inc. seeking to form a union before the company is acquired by Microsoft.

The Apple Store Union’s petition would need to be reviewed by the NLRB, which would then hold hearings on the bargaining unit’s size and other key issues. Apple hasn’t said whether it would consider the unusual step of recognizing the workers voluntarily.

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